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Wife of religious leader recounts her family's private battle

Published: Saturday, Sept. 18 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

Even today, Christina continues to face the threat of what her husband's choices could do to her. She agreed to speak with the Deseret News, knowing she has never told any of her friends or colleagues at Primary Children's Medical Center, where she works as a child life specialist. "I work with primarily LDS people. They may read the paper because they are LDS and it's the Deseret News. I'm used to being on the evangelical side of things," but she's not sure what the reaction will be with co-workers.

"Bernie and his story have been out there for some time (in this community), but not me. Even eight years out, it's still funny how you react to people knowing. I don't know what they will say or do or think." Yet she's decided to speak publicly because she knows there are so many other women like her, at various stages in the process of discovery, confrontation or recovery. She knows to the core of her soul that the "scourge of sexual sin is its secrecy."

Recovery

At home, she was "hyper-vigilant at first about checking the computer," once his secret was out. "But I finally had to say, 'I'm not his mother. I'm the mother of three kids. Now if he wants to spend the afternoon alone, I'm fine with it. I know he longs to spend time with us. It's very different than when he used to long to spend time with his computer."

"That ugly stuff was worth it," she says, as she's watched a better man emerge through a battle that could have taken both him and their marriage to the ground. A big part of their recovery process "was God and (Bernie's) willingness to acknowledge" his problem. "I think when you're saying one thing and living life a different way, it catches up with you. I just don't think he could live that way any more. He was going to have to choose one path or the other."

Just as Christina came to the point where she was ready to leave her husband, she says, "every person has to draw a line in the sand and say 'enough is enough.' You have to say, 'this is my heart and my heart can only take so much.' " By not doing so, "you enable a person's behavior. For 2.5 years, I enabled him. God knew it and I did too. It was time for me to stop enabling him."

Looking back, she remembers feeling he had "taken every ounce of what I thought about myself away, but I've always believed love is a choice. It's not just a feeling, it's a choice. I believe God gave me the love I have for Bernie, and that if I trusted in him he would give me that feeling back.

"I wouldn't go back and do it again, but if I had a choice to marry someone else or to not even have this in our lives, I wouldn't change it, because what we have now is good and a blessing. It's taken a lot of work, but it's worth it."

'Crisis of truth'

In an interview with the Deseret News, Pastor Anderson said men who indulge in porn have an innate ability to mentally "compartmentalize" their thoughts and actions. That may be particularly true with religious leaders or others involved in full-time ministry, because the hypocrisy is so great.

"They have this part of sexuality, and it's separate from what we experience from our spouse. We can live with that level of incongruity. That goes on until there is a 'crisis of truth' of living one way" connected to family, church and vocation on one hand, and "this other way" of secrecy, indulgence and constant guilt on the other.

"You can maintain a marriage relationship that way. It may not be the ideal, or meeting the needs of your spouse, but you can get by. And many do that for many, many years," he said.

For Pastor Anderson, it was seven years, to be exact. Seven years of marriage with a secret he wouldn't tell.

For most of that time, he was dealing with a successful and growing ministry. Looking back, he recognizes "the seductive nature of success and the intoxicating effect of a compliment," which often led to some of his most vulnerable times with porn.

"Perhaps subconsciously we start believing in too many of the good things members tell us about our sermons, demonstrations of compassion and biblical insights. ... Don't be surprised at the subtle lure that accomplishment and accolades can bring. These lead to a sense of entitlement; they lead us to act as though we can do or have whatever we want."

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